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When It Comes to Being Healthy at Work, You Gotta Believe

May 3, 2013
A new study suggests that encouraging employees to partake in healthier behaviors may start with one step: fostering the belief that a healthier lifestyle is within reach.

Is health and wellness within your reach? You better believe it. According to a survey from The Ohio State University, respondents who believed in their ability to engage in a healthy lifestyle participated in more healthy behaviors. The results could have implications for workplace health and wellness programs.

“Implementing programs that can strengthen faculty and staff’s beliefs about engaging in wellness and improve their ability to engage in healthy behaviors will impact what they actually do in terms of leading a healthy lifestyle,” explained Bernadette Melnyk, Ohio State’s chief wellness officer and dean of the College of Nursing, who led the study.

Results from this survey, as well as an earlier one conducted at more than 90 academic institutions across the nation, suggest that while many academic institutions have taken important steps to foster a more healthful work environment, some obstacles hinder broader faculty and staff engagement in wellness activities – including a lack of workplace flexibility and perceived low leader support.

In particular, respondents from the two surveys reported, on average, that it is “somewhat” easy to engage in health and wellness activities and indicated that colleges or units were “somewhat” supportive of employee participation in wellness events. Staff and faculty also reported, on average, that they believe university leader engagement in promoting and role-modeling health and wellness fell between “somewhat” and “moderate” levels.

When asked what one thing would help with participation in wellness activities at their institutions, the most common responses included:

  • Flexibility in work schedules/time to participate
  • A culture that encourages wellness
  • Good communication about available programs and activities
  • Leaders/administrators being fully engaged and supporting wellness
  • Convenient locations and improved access to wellness resources
  • Incentives

Healthy Perceptions

The survey of summit participants’ institutions about their wellness efforts suggests that the obstacles identified at Ohio State are fairly typical in institutions across the country.

“Perceptions that faculty and staff have about the wellness culture and environment affect their lifestyle beliefs and behaviors, so those perceptions are extremely important,” said Melnyk.

She also noted that conducting the comprehensive survey represented an investment of resources to help determine the health and wellness needs of faculty and staff as well as how best to respond to those needs. With an estimated 31.2 million students, faculty and staff working and learning in higher education institutions across the country, Melnyk argued that universities should feel compelled to create an environment that supports health and well-being.

This wellness journey “will be worth it as we foster healthier, happier and more engaged faculty, staff and students,” she added.

“Evidence from studies has shown that when people have higher levels of wellness, they are more happy, engaged and productive and have fewer chronic illnesses, which means they miss less work and cost less in terms of health care claims,” said Melnyk. “There is an economic incentive to keep staff and faculty healthy, but it’s also simply the right thing to do as an employer.”

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